No. 6 Squadron RAF

No. 6 Squadron RAF
Active 31 January 1914–present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Role Quick Reaction Alert
Garrison/HQ RAF Lossiemouth
Nickname(s) "The Flying Can Openers"
Motto(s) Oculi Exercitus
("The Eyes of the Army")
Aircraft Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4
Squadron Badge heraldry An eagle, wings elevated, preying on a serpent
Squadron roundel

No. 6 Squadron of the Royal Air Force operates the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 at RAF Lossiemouth.[1] It was previously equipped with the Jaguar GR.3 in the close air support and tactical reconnaissance roles, and was posted to RAF Coltishall, Norfolk until April 2006, moving to RAF Coningsby until disbanding in May 2007. The squadron officially reformed as a Typhoon squadron on 6 September 2010.[2]


First World War

No. 6 Squadron's motto Oculi Exercitus (The Eyes of the Army) and the badge depicting an eagle attacking a serpent were gained as a result of fighter defence of army units during the First World War.

The squadron was formed on 31 January 1914, at Farnborough as No. 6 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. Its first squadron commander was Major John Becke.[3]

The bird depicted on the squadron badge is a falcon, with the snake serving two purposes, one the then (First World War) obvious anti-Central Powers symbolism, the second to circumvent the rules about squadron badges featuring a squadron's number. The cunningly coiled snake (rumoured to have been cooked up by No. 6 Squadron members Louis Strange and Lanoe Hawker) neatly sidestepped the regulations.

The squadron were pioneers in military aviation, being blessed with the presence of Louis Strange and Lanoe Hawker VC - the former an "ideas man" - almost a mad professor - the latter a skilled engineer who became the first British flying ace. Their dual talents led to some ingenious mountings for machine guns, the use of which won Hawker the first air combat Victoria Cross for his actions on 25 July 1915 and nearly cost Strange his life, when he reached up to change the drum on a Lewis gun he had mounted on the top plane of his Martinsyde (long before the Foster Mount became de rigueur) and the machine flipped on its back, threw Strange from the cockpit and went into a flat spin from 10,000 ft (3,000 m). Strange, hanging for dear life to the drum of the Lewis gun, managed to get back into the cockpit and right the aircraft within 500 ft (150 m) of the ground. He returned to the aerodrome and quietly disappeared, sleeping for the best part of 24 hours, telling no-one of the incident. Unfortunately for Strange, the German machine he had been firing at witnessed the whole incident and assumed that their brave attacker had perished. As was the custom, they dropped a wreath and with it a letter describing the manner of Strange's death and a bashful Strange found his escapade written into aviation history. Needless to say, his next invention was a pilot's safety harness!

Strange went on to be decorated for bravery in combat in both world wars and help to initiate, develop and organise the UK's sole parachute training facility at RAF Ringway near Manchester in 1940, and then the catapult Hurricane system (CAM ship). Hawker died in 1916, after an epic one-to-one battle with Baron von Richthofen.

Other members of No. 6 Squadron RFC included several men who went on to find fame in the Second World War, including Hugh Dowding.

Inter-war years

Hawker Hardy aircraft operating from RAF Ramleh airfield in the 1930s

Following the Armistice, the squadron transferred to Iraq, arriving in July 1919. Operating in the army co-operation role in Northern Iraq, it was equipped with Bristol Fighters.

The squadron remained there for ten years before moving to Egypt in 1929. At the same time, it re-equipped with Fairey Gordons and assumed the bomber role, Hawker Harts replacing these in 1935. Following problems in Palestine, the squadron relocated there in 1938, reverting to the army co-operation role with Hawker Hardys, adding Gloster Gauntlets and Westland Lysanders later.

Second World War

A 6 Squadron Hurricane IID over the Western Desert, 1942.

During the early part of the Second World War, the squadron operated in the army co-operation role with Westland Lysanders from Palestine, but detached aircraft to the Western Desert until 1941 when Hawker Hurricanes were on strength. Co-operation with ground units was vital during sorties around this time. During one mission, Flight Lieutenant McFall, carrying out a Lysander reconnaissance, located the enemy unit and then landed beside Allied gun batteries in order to direct the fire.

Further action in the desert on anti-tank duties continued from 1942 until the end of the North African campaign. Flying the tank-busting, 40 mm cannon-firing Hawker Hurricane Mk. IID, the squadron excelled over the desert, destroying many Axis armoured targets. This is where they earned the nickname "The Flying Tin Openers".

One of the flight commanders, Flight Lieutenant 'Pip' Hillier was awarded the DFC after some 13 confirmed tank 'kills'. Unfortunately, he was killed in August 1942 whilst demonstrating the squadrons tactics to the press, having served with the squadron since 1938 in Palestine. His DFC citation in the London Gazette states:

Flight Lieutenant Philip Snowdon-Alexander HILLIER (41409) No. 6 Squadron. .. In June, 1942, this officer participated in 2 sorties against a column of enemy armoured vehicles near Sidi Rezegh. On his first sortie, in the face of heavy fire, he made 4 low level attacks on the target, hitting several tanks. On his second sortie, he flew so low that part of the tail, unit snapped off on the turret of one of the vehicles he attacked.Despite the damage sustained to his aircraft he flew it safely to base. Flight Lieutenant Hillier played a gallant part in the operations which were attended with much success.

In the spring of 1944, the squadron moved to a coastal field south-east of Termoli, Italy. The squadron flew Hurricane Mk.IVs equipped with rocket projectiles. Moored Axis ships were attacked at Yugoslav harbours and the Dalmatian islands. They were strongly defended by anti-aircraft gunners on Siebel ferries with their multiple guns, as the ships were being used to supply the German forces. Squadron detachments were also made to Bastia in Corsica, Araxos near Patras in Greece, Brindisi, and near Ancona. A fixed 44-gallon extra petrol tank under the port wing increased the Hurricanes' duration to almost three hours at 160 mph cruising speed. The airfield on Vis (island) was extensively used as an advanced base from May 1944 to February 1945, usually to top up tanks before each armed reconnaissance.[4][5] Occasionally, inland targets like barracks and headquarters were attacked. Combined operations with Tito's forces were also carried out.

Post-Second World War/Cold War

In July 1945, the squadron moved to Palestine. They cooperated with the police, patrolling the Kirkuk-to-Haifa oil pipeline to prevent terrorist attacks. The squadron remained in the Middle East until 1969. During this period, the squadron went from being equipped with Hurricanes (and for a brief period four Spitfires due to a lack of available Hurricanes) to Hawker Tempest Mk. VIs and subsequently De Havilland Vampire FB.5s. In January 1950 the squadron moved to RAF Habbaniya in Iraq with many moves back and forth between RAF Habbaniya and RAF Shaibah in Iraq, RAF Abu Sueir and RAF Deversoir in the Suez Canal Zone, RAF Nicosia in Cyprus, RAF Mafraq and RAF Amman in Jordan and detachments throughout the Middle East. During the early 1950s the squadron developed a close relationship with Jordan and King Talal and King Hussein. Throughout this period, it continued to operate Vampires and a twin-seat Gloster Meteor T.7 until re-equipped with De Haviland Venom FB1 in February 1954 and the Venom FB4 in June 1955.[6]

A 6 Squadron Jaguar GR3 over northern Iraq in 2000.

In 1956, after a brief period back at RAF Habbaniya in Iraq the squadron returned to Cyprus and operated from RAF Akrotiri. From there it attacked Egyptian airfields during the Suez Crisis. In 1957, the squadron again re-equipped, this time with English Electric Canberras, which it continued to operate from Akrotiri until 1969.

Having been located outside of the UK for 50 years, the squadron returned in 1969 and was the first to receive the Phantom FGR2 at RAF Coningsby the same year, before re-equipping with the Jaguar GR1 and T2 at RAF Lossiemouth in 1974. The squadron then moved to RAF Coltishall, being declared operational in the tactical nuclear role with twelve aircraft and eight WE.177 nuclear bombs until 1994,[7][8]when the squadron's nuclear role was terminated and the weapons withdrawn.

Post-Cold War

The squadron continued at RAF Coltishall in its non-nuclear role until Coltishall closed on 1 April 2006, and the squadron moved to RAF Coningsby. The squadron's aircraft were deployed to the Gulf as part of Operation Granby (Gulf War), for which it received battle honours, and later as part of the Northern No-Fly-Zone. The squadron deployed to Italy for operations over Bosnia from 1993.

The squadron was the last to fly the SEPECAT Jaguar, and was disbanded on 31 May 2007. The Jaguar's intended replacement in RAF service was the Eurofighter Typhoon. The RAF announced that No. 6 Squadron was to be the fourth operational front-line squadron equipped with the Typhoon and the first with Tranche 2 aircraft, initially scheduled to reform in 2008 at RAF Leuchars in Fife. However, this was delayed until 2010, with the squadron reforming at RAF Leuchars on 6 September 2010, when a closed standing-up ceremony was performed to mark the squadron's reforming, including the arrival of the new Typhoon aircraft in 6 Squadron colours from RAF Coningsby.[1] It has taken over the role of Quick Reaction Alert for the north of the United Kingdom from No. 111 Squadron RAF, the RAF's last Panavia Tornado F3 squadron, in March 2011.[1][9] In November 2011 four Typhoons from No. 6 Squadron flew to RMAF Butterworth to participate in aerial wargames for the 40th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.[10][11] In August 2013, several Typhoons from No. 6 were exercising with HMS Dragon and US fighters in the Gulf.[12] In June 2014, the squadron began to move to its new home in RAF Lossiemouth.[13]

Aircraft operated

Two Typhoons of 6 Squadron carry Paveway II training rounds en route to the Cape Wrath range, March 2013
Two Typhoons of 6 Squadron over the UAE during Shaheen Star 5 in June 2013

Commanding officers

List of commanding officers[14][15]
From To Name
February 1914 March 1915 Major J H W Becke[3]
March 1915 December 1915 Major G S Shephard[16]
December 1915 September 1916 Major R P Mills, MC, AFC[17]
September 1916 June 1917 Major A S Barratt, MC[18]
June 1917 July 1918 Major A W H James, MC
July 1918 February 1920 Major G C Pirie, MC[19]
February 1920 May 1920 S/Ldr W Sowrey[20]
May 1920 April 1922 S/Ldr E A B Rice
April 1922 January 1924 S/Ldr E R Manning, DSO, MC
January 1924 November 1925 S/Ldr D S K Crosbie, OBE
November 1925 November 1926 S/Ldr D F Stevenson, DSO, MC[21]
November 1926 January 1928 S/Ldr C N Lowe, MC, DFC
January 1928 February 1930 S/Ldr C H Keith
February 1930 February 1931 S/Ldr C R Cox, AFC
February 1934 January 1937 S/Ldr H M Massey, DSO, MC[22]
February 1940 September 1940 S/Ldr W N McKechnie, EGM
September 1940 April 1941 S/Ldr E R Weld
April 1941 February 1942 S/Ldr P Legge
February 1942 January 1943 W/Cdr R C Porteous, DSO
January 1943 May 1943 S/Ldr D Weston-Burt, DSO
May 1943 May 1944 W/Cdr A E Morrison-Bell, DFC
May 1944 August 1944 S/Ldr J H Brown, DSO, DFC
August 1944 November 1944 S/Ldr R H Langdon-Davies, DFC
November 1944 July 1946 S/Ldr R Slade-Betts, DFC
August 1946 December 1946 S/Ldr C E Mould
December 1946 November 1947 S/Ldr C K Gray, DFC
November 1947 July 1950 S/Ldr D Crowley-Milling, DSO, DFC Bar
July 1950 November 1952 S/Ldr P A Kennedy, DSO, DFC, AFC
November 1952 October 1954 S/Ldr E J Roberts
October 1954 November 1956 S/Ldr P C Ellis, DFC
November 1956 July 1957 S/Ldr G P Elliott
May 1969 August 1970 W/Cdr D Harcourt-Smith
August 1970 December 1972 W/Cdr J E Nevill
December 1972 June 1974 W/Cdr B W Lavender
June 1974 Jul 1975 W/Cdr R J Quarterman
Jul 1975 Dec 1977 Wg Cdr N R Hayward
Dec 1977 Mar 1980 Wg Cdr G B Robertson
Mar 1980 Aug 1982 Wg Cdr M N Evans
Aug 1982 Dec 1984 Wg Cdr D W Bramley
Dec 1984 Jun 1987 Wg Cdr N A Buckland
Jun 1987 Dec 1989 Wg Cdr I Reilly
Dec 1989 Feb 1992 Wg Cdr (later Gp Capt) J Connolly, AFC
Feb 1992 Jul 1994 Wg Cdr A D Sweetman
Jul 1994 Dec 1996 Wg Cdr I A Milne
Dec 1996 Jul 1999 Wg Cdr M J Roche
Jul 1999 Jul 2002 Wg Cdr R W Judson
Jul 2002 Jul 2004 Wg Cdr M J Sears, MBE
Jul 2004 Apr 2006 Wg Cdr W A Cruickshank
Apr 2006 May 2007 Wg Cdr J M Sullivan
Sep 2010 Oct 2012 Wg Cdr R Dennis
Oct 2012 Aug 2014 Wg Cdr M R Baulkwill
Aug 2014 Present Wg Cdr J R E Walls



  1. 1 2 3 4 McManamon, Craig (7 September 2010). "Typhoons mark a new era at RAF Leuchars". The Courier. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  2. Dsouza, Cavin (5 October 2010). "Eurofighter Typhoon replaces Tornado F3 in No. 6 Squadron of the Royal Air Force". Defence Aviation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  3. 1 2 Barrass, M. B. (2015). "J. H. W. Becke". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  4. Jefford, Wing Commander C. G., MBE, BA, RAF (Retd.) (2001). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  5. The "Tin-opener". No 6 Squadron (RAF) Association Newsletter. July 2014.
  6. Jefford, Wing Commander C. G., MBE, BA, RAF (Retd.) (2001). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  7. Burnell, Brian. "WE.177C". A Guide to British Nuclear Weapon projects. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  8. Burnell, Brian (2009). "Nuclear weapons details and No. 6 Squadron data for 1975". A Guide to British Nuclear Weapon projects. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  9. "Squadron with Style". Royal Air Force. 30 June 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  10. "MINDEF". Singapore Ministry of Defence. 2 November 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  11. "Malaysian exercise resounding success for RAF Typhoon squadron". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  12. "Dragon controls Typhoon in test of ultimate air and sea power". Navy News. 21 August 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  13. Gibson, Ali (23 June 2014). "6 Squadron Mark Relocation to RAF Lossiemouth". Forces TV. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  14. Rawlings 1982, p. 17.
  15. Rawlings 1978, pp. 33,561.
  16. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "G S Shephard". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  17. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "R. P. Mills". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  18. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "A. S. Barratt". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  19. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "G. C. Pirie". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  20. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "W. Sowrey". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  21. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "D. F. Stevenson". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.
  22. Barrass, M. B. (2015). "H M Massey". Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation. Retrieved 24 July 2015.


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  • Jefford, Wing Commander C.G., MBE,BA,RAF (Retd). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Lewis, Peter. Squadron Histories: R.F.C, R.N.A.S and R.A.F., 1912-59. London: Putnam, 1959.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1964 (new edition 1976). ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Jane's Publishing Company Ltd., 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0187-5.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 1969 (new edition 1976, reprinted 1978). ISBN 0-354-01028-X.
  • 3556 Supplement to The London Gazzette, 14 August 1942
  • Newman, Bertram A. Flying Officer, 6 Squadron, 1944-1945 (Pers. comm).
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